Wilbur Campbell | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Wilbur Campbell 


Last month, when the cultural-support organization Arts Midwest announced Chicagoans Wilbur Campbell and Franz Jackson as recipients of this year's Jazz Masters award, the only truly honest reaction could have been, What took so long? The octogenarian saxophonist Jackson, a veteran of bands led by a host of legends (including Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, and Cab Calloway), leads his own groups and gets his well-deserved share of the spotlight. Not so for Campbell, who turns 70 in two weeks, and who--during half a century of accompanying the top visiting soloists--has established himself as one of the best (and last) of the authentic bebop drummers. Today's neo-boppers bring a surgical precision to the music; the creators of the form kept the fuzzy edge, with explosive accents and rippling time flow made all the more exciting by the shocking novelty of their playing. Campbell's drum work still can surprise: to this day he drops bombs that almost nobody else would conceive or expect. Campbell came of age before the music demanded eclecticism of its drummers; you wouldn't give him a pair of wire brushes and ask him to back a chanteuse, and he readily admits that he really can't play a bossa nova (and has no desire to learn). But Campbell bears down on a bebop beat like few drummers can, complicating it with a spectacular array of accents and metric subdivisions while maintaining a rock-solid pulse that makes his colleagues solo like their lives depended on it. That sense of dangerous necessity might not be misplaced, when you consider the locomotion emanating from Campbell's traps. But it won't rattle Jackson, whose gruff-toned tenor also calls to mind the Lakeshore Limited, his solos still barreling along on a considerable head of steam. Jackson and Campbell will lead a quartet, with bassist Truck Parham and previous Jazz Masters honoree Jodie Christian at the piano, at the Jazz Institute of Chicago's annual free Jammin' in the Park concert, which closes the Arts and Crafts Family Festival. Sunday, 4:30 PM, DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl.; 947-0600.


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Wilbur Campbell with drums.

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